The Ten Best MAUDE Episodes of Season One

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re beginning our coverage on the best episodes from Maude (1972-1978, CBS), which was just released in full today, March 17, 2015!

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An ultra-liberal housewife often finds herself in conflict because of her outspoken social and political views. Starring BEATRICE ARTHUR as Maude, BILL MACY as Walter Findlay, ADRIENNE BARBEAU as Carol Traynor, CONRAD BAIN as Dr. Arthur Harmon, and ESTHER ROLLE as Florida Evans.

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Bea Arthur’s debut as Maude on a 1971 episode of All In The Family had the brass at CBS immediately determined to capitalize on both the actress and the character. Thus, Maude was born. First a backdoor pilot that aired at the end of All In The Family‘s second season (in which Marcia Rodd played Carol), the show went to series a few months later (now with Adrienne Barbeau). For the series, Maude was given a political adversary in snooty neighbor Dr. Arthur Harmon and a black housekeeper in Florida Evans, off of whom Maude’s extreme racial guilt could be bounced for comedic possibilities. Like its big brother series, Maude was immediately controversial for an early episode (November 1972) in which Maude considers having an abortion. The shocking two-part installment, airing several months before Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, has since gone on to become the series’ most well known, typifying the socially relevant stories for which Lear’s early ’70s shows were known.

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The first season of Maude is the most topical of the bunch, sometimes even rivaling All In The Family. It must be noted that the series won’t be so issue oriented in later years — at least, not as consistently and comically — so these early episodes, although not the funniest, are unique. While All In The Family was the flagship show and probably remains Lear’s gold standard, Maude is the more theatrically intimate (delighting in realtime episodes that feature few actors) and has equally smart writing that goes for and often succeeds in eliciting big belly laughs. Meanwhile, Bea Arthur is the funniest woman on ’70s television, and she elevates every single script, sometimes even overshadowing the comparatively average Bill Macy in the process. But I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.

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Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season One. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)

 

01) Episode 3: “Maude Meets Florida” (Aired: 09/26/72)

Maude overcompensates with her new black housekeeper.

Written by Walter Stone & Rod Parker | Directed by Robert H. Livingston

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Esther Rolle makes her debut in this, the first to feel like a fully realized Maude episode. That is, everything comes together for the first time, as Maude’s sociopolitical views are exaggerated and exploited to make her look comedically foolish. (In this regard, the character feels like a counterpoint to Archie Bunker, whose views on race also provide much comedy.) Maude’s relationship with Florida is, at this point, the series’ funniest, so this is a strong early installment that introduces their dynamic and sets the template for how the first two seasons will meet their comedy quotients.

02) Episode 6: “The Ticket” (Aired: 10/17/72)

Maude fights a traffic ticket in court.

Written by Erik Tarloff | Directed by Bill Hobin

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Although I have a severe aversion to sitcom episodes that wind up in court (it’s a common and overused premise), it’s not bothersome here, as the laughs come from the characters. This is because the comedic crux of the episode occurs during the interactions between Maude and the young baby-faced officer who writes her a ticket for speeding. Her ways of manipulating him are a riot, and, not surprisingly, Ms. Arthur gives a fantastic performance. Solid early outing that gains distinction for having more laughs than some of the honorable mentions (that almost replaced this episode on today’s list.)

03) Episode 7: “Love And Marriage” (Aired: 10/24/72)

Carol considers marrying a wealthy friend for security.

Teleplay by Budd Grossman | Story by Ralph Goodman | Directed by Bill Hobin

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This script is sharper than it would appear at first glance. In fact, this episode represents one of those rare instances in which a not-so-great story is paired with a teleplay that really makes it work. The A-plot of Carol considering a marriage for security is not comedically ripe; so the laughs come from a subplot between Maude and Arthur, who get into a hilarious screaming match that culminates in a no-holds-barred dish-smashing jamboree. It’s one of the season’s funniest scenes and indicative of both the performers and the writers rising above a constricted premise.

04) Episode 9: “Maude’s Dilemma (I)” (Aired: 11/14/72)

Maude learns she’s pregnant.

Story by Austin & Irma Kalish | Teleplay by Susan Harris | Directed by Bill Hobin

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The infamous and aforementioned abortion two-parter kicks off here, in which Maude is shocked (read: hilarious turn by Ms. Arthur) to learn that she’s expecting. It’s a truly jaw-dropping moment for 1972 television, and it hasn’t lost any of its punch. Also, note that this is the first appearance of Rue McClanahan, who replaced Doris Roberts during rehearsal, as Vivian (a very different presence than she’ll be later on). The best remembered episode of the entire series, it’s one that should be seen by all TV fans. Although the installment isn’t the funniest; it illustrates the power of both the show and the medium. For newbies looking to get a taste of the first season, this is the one to watch.

05) Episode 10: “Maude’s Dilemma (II)” (Aired: 11/21/72)

Maude’s unsure of what to do about the pregnancy.

Story by Austin & Irma Kalish | Teleplay by Susan Harris | Directed by Bill Hobin

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Although not as good as the first half, the concluding entry in the ‘Maude is pregnant’ saga involves Walter’s grappling with whether or not to get a vasectomy, after which he and Maude finally decide — together — to terminate the pregnancy. It’s a powerfully quiet scene: not played comedically, yet still satisfyingly rendered. Fortunately, Harris’ script is blessed with a lot of great laugh lines, particularly in the first act. (Love the Noel Coward joke!) My one complaint, and the reason I find the first part superior, is that Carol’s dialogue is inartfully preachy and her role is purely functional.

06) Episode 12: “The Grass Story” (Aired: 12/05/72)

Maude tries to get arrested for marijuana possession.

Written by Arnold Kane & Gordon Farr | Directed by Bill Hobin

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A perfect premise for Maude: when a local boy is arrested for marijuana possession, Maude and her friends decide to protest the harsh laws by getting arrested for possession themselves. Of course, getting the ganja is harder than Maude anticipated, and this serves much of the comedy. Topical, funny, and completely fresh, this is the perfect example of a unique early season episode of this series, indicative of what the series could do when firing on all cylinders and emblematic of the type of stories for which Maude is best known today: socially relevant hijinks.

07) Episode 15: “Walter’s 50th Birthday” (Aired: 01/23/73)

An old friend dies at Walter’s 50th birthday party.

Story by Maurice Richlin | Teleplay by Pamela Herbert Chais | Directed by Hal Cooper

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As I’ve said before on this blog, every sitcom from the 1970s (and on) has at least one episode where they try to glean humor from death. This series will do it several times a season, with mostly hilarious results. Depressed about turning 50, Walter’s anxiety is compounded when his old childhood friend comes to his party — and drops dead right in front of him. It’s a serious topic, but the script handles everything so broadly that the story retains its humor, all the while hinting at deeper and universally relatable issues. Not comedically superb, but narratively sound.

08) Episode 18: “Florida’s Problem” (Aired: 02/13/73)

Florida’s husband wants her to quit.

Story by Alan J. Levitt | Teleplay by Budd Grossman |  Directed by Hal Cooper

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As the only episode this season centered around Florida (aside from her debut), Esther Rolle makes the most of the script and runs with it. John Amos is introduced here as Florida’s husband Henry (later changed to James for the 1974 spin-off, Good Times) and their chemistry is already evident. It’s a fast-paced story enlivened by the usage of interesting characters played by strong actors. And, as a fan of Florida (on this series, less so on her own — which is marred by dimwitted scripts and a weaker supporting cast), this is a first season favorite and one of the year’s most humorous.

09) Episode 21: “The Perfect Marriage” (Aired: 03/13/73)

The Findlays are shocked to learn that the Cavendar’s are divorcing.

Written by Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf | Directed by Hal Cooper

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Contrary to popular belief, divorce was not a rare topic for TV at the time. (Sensitive, yes, but seen more frequently than now presumed.) But this script eschews the topicality of the premise by centering it on the characters – and more particularly, the comedy. Bea and Bill are divine in this installment, which boats the second appearance of McClanahan (whose character is already something different than last time) and the first of two appearances of her soon-to-be ex, William Redfield. It’s a gaggy unsophisticated script, but it’s fast-paced and allows the actors to shine.

10) Episode 22: “Maude’s Night Out” (Aired: 03/20/73)

Maude and Walter banter as they prepare for a party.

Written by Pamela Herbert Chais | Directed by Hal Cooper

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This is the second of two Season One episodes that play in real time on one set with only Maude and Arthur, and makes the list because it is comedically superior. You all know I’m a fan of these overly theatrical one-act outings (which this series does brilliantly), but comedy is still the main concern. Fortunately, the script, hinged on a premise that concerns several referenced-but-unseen new characters, is fresh, engaging, and unpredictable with big laughs that arise from relatable character-driven dialogue. Furthermore, the performances are first rate. A superb underrated installment; among the season’s finest.

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Doctor, Doctor,” in which we meet Arthur and the script climaxes comedically, “Like Mother, Like Daughter,” in which Susan Harris’ script gives Bea Arthur a lot of great moments, “Maude’s Reunion,” in which Barbara Rush plays Maude’s old high school friend, “The Convention,” in which a discussion about gender roles occurs in a realtime episode that only features Maude and Walter in a motel room, and “Walter’s Secret,” in which Carol catches Walter out with another woman. All five of these episodes, particularly “Like Mother, Like Daughter,” “The Convention,” and “Walter’s Secret,” deserve to make the above list.

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season One of Maude goes to…..

“Maude’s Dilemma (I)”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from the second season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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13 thoughts on “The Ten Best MAUDE Episodes of Season One

  1. Good review my dude so far I am looking forward to your opinions on the other season. I definitely feel tht Maudes Dilemma really shows some character development not only in Maude part but Walter too.

    Btw, I kno u r reviewing Night Court nxt year but what’s your thoughts on it

    • Hi, Track. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Yes, NIGHT COURT should be coming to Sitcom Tuesdays during late Spring of 2016. All I’ll say right now is that it has just as many disappointing seasons (maybe even more) as it does satisfying ones — but I’ll be covering all of them!

      Stay tuned next week for the second season of MAUDE!

  2. I remember MAUDE being one of the funniest sitcoms on TV when I was growing up, but from what I have seen looking back more recently at it, the series generally has not aged well (and it has consistently bombed in syndication).
    It is in direct contrast, in that regard, to THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, which ran for the exact same six seasons on CBS but which has aged so well that it’s better now than it seemed then. The fact that MAUDE was so aggressively topical, while BOB NEWHART took pains not to be especially topical, may have a lot to do with this.

    • Hi, Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I responded to a comment from Jon about MAUDE being overly topical on last week’s post on the final season of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. I’m reposting it here in full:

      “The first two years (especially Season One) is when the show is at its most issue-heavy. Maude’s much more of an earnest crusader and there’s a healthy amount of preaching. This begins to change during the transitional second year, and by the third season (with the much broader Mrs. Naugatuck replacing Florida), the show becomes exponentially funnier.

      That said, Maude’s ultra-liberal inclinations are a huge part of her character, so the show never completely loses its topicality. And truthfully, that’s a good thing — the show works best when it’s both funny AND relevant. Unfortunately, whenever the series tries to push explicitly for heavier themes in the last three years, they almost invariably become “very special episodes” and lose their humor.

      Your mom is right that everyone yells a lot; that doesn’t change. In fact, MAUDE may be the loudest of Lear’s shows. However, I don’t think MAUDE should be considered any more dated than ALL IN THE FAMILY. They both made frequent mention of figures and events that lock them specifically to the 1970s. I think posterity hasn’t treated the show as well as ALL IN THE FAMILY because of the Maude character. She wasn’t mocked as harshly as Archie, even though their views were equally extreme. Maude was sometimes shown as foolish, but she wasn’t treated as ignorant or pitiable (as was Archie). Thus, she was less endearing. (Also, AITF came first and was Lear’s flagship show; it changed television.)

      But Bea Arthur is perhaps the funniest TV comedienne of the ’70s, and the show has long been an underrated comedic presence. It’s often hilarious — and she deserves so much of the praise. I’m hoping that this new release grants the show the credit it deserves: as a very funny situation comedy.”

      So stay tuned, because the show is about to become exponentially funnier!

      • Thank you for the reiview. I am old enough to remember as a child the controversy the abortion episode raised. In fact our local CBS affiliate in Green bay was partially owned by a Catholic order and the decision was made to pre-empt the episode in prime time and air it after 11:00pm. Also very interesting with the review of the MTM and Norman Lear 70’s sit-coms to see the first time many social issue’s were handled especially gay characters being introduced for the first time (the MTM episode where Phyllis thinks her brother is dating Rhoda is my favorite of these)

        • Hi, Bob! Thanks for reading and commenting!

          “My Brother’s Keeper,” from the third season of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW is a favorite of mine as well, and I think it’s because the show is so casual about his homosexuality — there’s no big debate or “very special episode” feel to it.

          I believe the first sitcom to have a gay character as a regular was THE CORNER BAR (1972 & 1973, ABC), which aired over two summers. I wrote last year about seeing two episodes at UCLA and the Paley Center here: https://jacksonupperco.com/2014/04/16/spring-break-research-recap-ii-of-ii/

          Stay tuned next month for a Wildcard Wednesday post about some of the spring break research I did last week at UCLA, including my thoughts on episodes of Norman Lear’s own HOT L BALTIMORE (1975, ABC), which I believe had the first regular gay couple among its ensemble, and ALL’S FAIR (1976-1977, CBS), which starred Richard Crenna and Bernadette Peters.

  3. Someone mentioned a parody of “Maude” from “The Carol Burnett Show.” I went looking and found it on YouTube. I thought it was amusing, if a little silly. Delete it, of course, if you wish. Some people don’t like these kinds of links on their websites and I understand if you don’t.

      • This sketch prompts a question. Did Maude’s daughter have a son who was on the series? I have no memory of a child being in the house on MAUDE, though it’s been a number of years since I’ve seen the show. (I have the DVDs ordered, but they’re not in yet.)

        • Hi, Tom. Thanks for reading and commenting.

          Yes, Carol’s son was named Phillip and he appears in every season of the show (although they replaced the actor in the final year and attempted to make his character more relevant to the stories). I like to think this sketch reminded the writers about his existence — he’s used much more frequently in the following season. So stay tuned!

  4. I only remember seeing this show in syndication & I think it’s pretty brilliant. Parts of it is dated of course but a lot of the same issues still are around. I really think a number of 70s shows have a heart and (albeit sorta preachy but no where as bad as the 80s) messages about love and family including the imperfect ones that are refreshing to watch even now. Maude is one of those shows IMO

    • Hi, Shani! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think you’re absolutely right about the sentimentality of ’70s shows vs. ’80s shows — they’re very different! And, yes, MAUDE is often underrated brilliance, especially in the later seasons, which finally came out on DVD earlier this year. If you haven’t seen them in a while, you’re in for a real treat!

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